Parents head to class

Education: By having parents attend class with their children on their first day, a school hopes they remain involved.

August 31, 1999|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

Mary Smithson had some larger-than-usual students in her class.

Smithson, an Annapolis Elementary School second-grade teacher, taught her first lesson of the school year yesterday -- to parents along with her pupils.

"This really gives me a chance to get to know everyone," she said as she assembled her class in her first-floor classroom. "I think it is going pretty well."

For the second year, parents have been invited to spend the first day of school with their children. Going beyond the traditional back-to-school night or new-student orientation, bringing parents into class on the first day encourages them to get involved in other school activities throughout the year, said Principal Becky Schou.

Schou scurried through the hallways greeting parents and pupils as they arrived at her 103-year-old school. The oldest school building in use in Maryland shined yesterday: Floors sparkled, and hallways were adorned with bright murals of gardens and colorful fish.

"Just about everyone comes," Schou said. "Eighty-five percent of families came last year with their children on the first day of school."

In Smithson's class, a dozen parents wedged themselves into pint-sized chairs at pint-sized desks. They looked over the school handbook, filled out emergency notification forms and field trip permission slips, and signed parent-teacher contracts in which all agreed to help the children be successful.

Ursula Thomas sat next to her son Vaughn Johnson as he filled out a work sheet about what he did over the summer. As Vaughn penciled in details about his trip to the Six Flags amusement park and his birthday party, his mother explained why she had taken time away from her accounting job to go to class.

"It's important to him, and it's important to me," she said. "I think this is great. It eases the tension of the first day for kids and parents."

Yesterday was the first day in an American school for Ashley Felipe, 6, and her father, Navy Chief Petty Officer Rod Felipe. Last year, she attended school in Japan, where her father was stationed.

"Most of the time, my wife is involved with school because I am not around as much," Felipe said. "I am taking advantage of this opportunity to be with her and get to know her teachers and everyone else at the school."

After spending time in the classroom, parents were briefed in the cafeteria on what to expect for the year and how to get involved in the PTA.

"It's a great family environment," PTA Treasurer Jim Favret told the parents. "I encourage everyone to get involved or at least volunteer at the school."

`Involvement is key'

About half of the parents of the school's 320 pupils are PTA members, said President Jean Melton.

"Parental involvement is key," she said. "And this is such a family-oriented school. Parents here don't think twice about coming to school."

Guidance counselor Stephanie O'Mara passed out a brochure about a program for parents and workshops she is planning for parents in October.

"It's part of the violence-prevention and social-skills lessons that we are teaching the children," she said. "The workshops will extend it to the parents."

Feeling of safety

Alysia Mendoza planned to spend the morning with her 7-year-old daughter, Michelle, in Smithson's class and then to head to her son's kindergarten for the afternoon.

She wanted her children to feel safer.

"It gives them some protection," she said. "It makes them feel more secure. They are excited about school, but they are also scared about leaving us."

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